Walking along the ghost town stretch that’s now Lake Street, it’s rare to see a place that’s open for business as usual.
Well’s Street Popcorn, however, is one of the few places that seems to be doing the usual business.
National Caramel Popcorn Day is coming up on April 6, and if you celebrate that holiday (and really, who doesn’t, right?), you might want to grab a bag from Well’s Street Popcorn before everything shuts down. When I visited the store, I chose what their website describes as “Chicago’s most famous treat: caramel and cheddar popcorn.”
This blend of caramel and cheese-coated popcorn is likely what many of us know as “Chicago Mix.” It’s also most likely that if you’ve enjoyed Chicago Mix, you probably bought it from Garrett’s Popcorn Shops, which has multiple locations around Chicago, as well as Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
This mind-bending mélange of caramel and cheesy corn is spectacularly delicious: the salt, the sweet, the rich buttery lushness and yet all that indulgence is enjoyed with the knowledge that you’re eating corn, a fundamentally healthful and indigenous North American food.
But Garrett’s can no longer, by law, call their confection “Chicago Mix.”
According to the Garrett’s website, “Our secret family recipe of real cheddar cheese and oh-so-sweet, buttery caramel will delight your taste buds. Indulge in sweet and savory flavors made in Chicago since 1949.”
However, as confirmed in recent court rulings, Chicago Mix – a blend of caramel- and cheese-popcorn as well as “seasoned popcorn” (what seems to be basically salt and butter) – started being offered in 1988 by Candyland in St. Paul, Minnesota. Candyland trademarked the name in the 1990s, and now they’re the only company in the country that can legally sell anything called “Chicago Mix,” though many stores sell the combination of caramel- and cheese-corn under different names. Candyland’s lawsuit compelled not only Garrett’s Popcorn Shops but also companies like Cretors and Jays O’ke Doke to stop using the name “Chicago Mix” or any variation thereof, including “Chi Style” or “Chicago Style.”
So, who was the first to come out with Chicago Mix? Seems like it might have been Garrett Popcorn Shops. And who was the first to trademark the name “Chicago Mix”? That would definitely have been Candyland.
Though by law, Candyland owns the name “Chicago Mix,” ask any Chicagoan who invented Chicago Mix, and they’ll very likely tell you that it was Garrett’s.
We just finished a tub of Candyland’s “Chicago Mix,” and gotta say I prefer the Garrett’s/Well Street versions, which are just the caramel corn and cheese corn combined. The plain corn that Candyland puts into the mix doesn’t add much of anything and might even dilute the flavor a bit.
So if you happen to be shopping at any of the few places still open in Oak Park, like, let’s say, Med Men, you might want to swing by to pick up a bag of Well’s Street Popcorn’s mix of caramel and cheddar flavored corn to munch on later. It will make you very happy during these dark times.